Stop distorting history
Japan cannot hide truth about wartime atrocities
Japan has again come under strong criticism for distorting historical facts about its wartime atrocities. This criticism came Tuesday when the Japanese education ministry announced the results of its screening of textbooks for use by second- and third-year high school students starting in 2023.
Textbook publishers were forced to delete the expression "forced mobilization" which was used to describe Koreans forced into hard labor during Japan's 1910-45 occupation of Korea. Instead, they had to use "mobilization" or "conscription" in the government-censored textbooks. Many of the books were also found to have remove the word "wartime" from "wartime comfort women" when referring to Korean sex slaves for frontline Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The deletion of such expressions demonstrates that the Japanese government has forced publishers to distort history in the process of screening textbooks. Its move is nothing but an attempt to erase the coercive nature of its past atrocities and misdeeds. The publishers seemed to have no other choice but to water down the expressions and descriptions of forced labor and sex slavery in the face of government censorship.
At the same time, the Tokyo government has reinforced its claim over Dokdo, a set of volcanic islets in the East Sea. The textbooks reflected the Japanese government's assertions that Dokdo belongs to Japan, and that South Korea is occupying the islets illegally. Such a claim is nonsense because Dokdo is part of Korea's territory historically, geographically and under international law.
The harder Japan tries to gloss over its shameful history, the more it will lose from its blatant disregard of the truth. Japan should face up to history squarely. Forced labor and sex slavery are crimes against humanity. The country should not forget the landmark "Kono statement" that was issued in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono who acknowledged and apologized for forced mobilization of Asian women as wartime sex slaves for Japan's military.
However, Japan has been trying to ignore the statement, particularly since 2012 when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power. Ties between Seoul and Tokyo reached their lowest level since the 1965 diplomatic normalization due to Japan's refusal to honor a South Korean Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that its firms should pay compensation to the surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor.
Japan's distortion of history is the main culprit behind the soured bilateral relationship. The Moon Jae-in government has failed to mend ties with Tokyo. Incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol is pledging to improve relations with Tokyo to strengthen trilateral cooperation between the U.S. and its two Asian allies. However, it is difficult for Seoul to forge better ties with Tokyo unless the latter has a correct understanding of history.
Yoon needs to hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishda as early as possible after his inauguration set for May 10. The two leaders should pool their wisdom to resolve historical disputes and forge a future-oriented partnership. Yet true reconciliation and forgiveness will not come without sincere repentance and apology for wartime atrocities.
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